Review of The Outsiders by Gerald Seymour

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of The Outsiders, due for publication in July 2012.

It is Gerald Seymour’s 29th novel and in it he revisits some of his usual themes, namely organised crime (see Killing Ground, The Untouchable, Rat Run and The Collaborator) and government-sanctioned extra-legal murder (see Harry’s Game, At Close Quarters and A Deniable Death).

A prologue sets the scene. A MI5 team in Budapest is investigating organised crime, specifically they are following up a lead about an illegal arms shipment. One of the British agents is discovered and brutally kicked to death before his arm is severed to allow the killers to steal his (empty) briefcase. The leader of the team, Winnie Monks, vows vengeance. Every year she and her now-disbanded “graveyard team” meet in an old graveyard behind MI5 headquarters. They are waiting for the crumb of evidence that will lead them to their target.

The killers are in fact a Russian crime boss known as the Major and his two minders, all former KGB. They have a free hand to perform illegal activities as they also carry out ‘services’ for the Russian government. The Major employs a hacker known disparagingly as the Gecko. One night he beats the hacker because he mistakenly assumes he’s stolen some property. It is this incident that makes the Gecko approach the British intelligence services with the information that the Major killed one of their men. He also provides the information that the Major is going to visit an exiled Russian gangster, called the ‘Tractor’, in Spain.

This is the crumb of information that Winnie Monks has been waiting for and she dispatches a team to the southern Spanish resort of Malaga, now hit by the hard times. Her team consists of watchers accompanied by Sparky, a former Para suffering with PTSD. Is he going as an unofficial minder or something more? It soon becomes apparent that the local authorities will prove uncooperative if it comes to extradition proceedings so Winnie makes sure she has a backup plan.

The team set up shop in a supposedly empty home belonging to a former RAF officer now retired to Spain. Unknown to them the property is occupied by house-sitters Jonno and Posie. There is immediate friction and Jonno finds himself the outsider.

As they wait for the Major to arrive the watchers find themselves powerless to intervene when they witness a couple of brutal murders in the Russian’s home performed by the Tractor and his two Serb henchmen. And they continue to wait for the Major to arrive.

Meanwhile there’s an unconnected sequence of events that starts with an intercepted shipment of drugs. This leads to the unlikely involvement of some septuagenarian British criminals whose own involvement will turn out to be crucial.

I particularly enjoyed the early sequences of the book describing the Gecko’s anger at his treatment and how his ego leads him to inform on the Major out of spite. The book is good at describing Malaga’s abandoned building sites and for-sale signs, a symptom of the global downturn. One also assumed that Seymour has done his homework regarding the ease with which organised crime thrives in southern Spain and how Russian gangsters dispatch with the individuals that slight them. Another nice detail is the story about how the Major and his two minders all received the same wound in Afghanistan.

As a final note I also quite like the title of the book, as each character is, in their own way, an outsider, whether it be Jonno and Posie in the middle of the surveillance operation, the watchers operating out of their jurisdiction, or even the Russians living far from home.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Outsiders-Gerald-Seymour/dp/1444705881/

Read about all of Gerald Seymour’s thrillers at www.geraldseymour.co.uk.

Avengers movie review

As promised here are my comments on the Avengers. I’m going to try and avoid spoilers so rather than dwell too much on the plot I’ll stick to some general comments on the characters.

The move clocked in at well over two hours long but it was a “didn’t look at my watch once” movie. It hits the ground running. If you haven’t seen at least some of Iron Man, Thor or Captain America you may well be scratching your head wondering what a Tesseract is. It’s very much the McGuffin with Thor’s half-brother Loki and his alien minions getting their hands on the Asgardian artifact.

I’m pretty amazed at how Joss Whedon managed to give everyone in the team as much screen time as he did. I was going to write that he gave everyone their moment but that wouldn’t be accurate as wach of the characters got a good chunk of the action. There was no fifth wheel. Everyone had their important job to do.

There are lots of Marvel goodies here and it does feel like a big-screen version of the comic books. A case in point is the inclusion of the SHIELD Helicarrier where much of the action takes place. Sam Jackson finally has a lot to do as Nick Fury, director of SHIELD, after his endless cameos. Watching Iron Man 2 I was kind of rolling my eyes when he turned up as he was Sam Jackson BEING SAM JACKSON against Robert Downy Jr who on the other hand does a lot by doing very little. So I had my worries that Sam might be too much. But no, he was perfect. We also get to see Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill who has been quite a mainstay with any SHIELD-related story over the last few years in the comics. In the opening sequence she gets to do some action-packed things. That’s Maria hill! I was thinking, slightly stunned. The fact that I’m enjoying a secondary character so much bodes well, I thought. (To be honest I was probably thinking EEEEEEKKKKKK!!!!!!!! but it translates to the previous sentence.)

The team is gradually, well, assembled. When the Tony Stark/Iron Man scenes arrived it felt like a Iron Man movie, but not in a jarring way. It was effortless. It was just comforting and familiar. They even got Gwyneth Paltrow to turn up as Pepper Potts for a fairly sizable cameo.

From Thor we have Thor himself of course, Loki, who is responsible for the mayhem and Stellan Skarsgard’s doctor Erik Selvig who is researching the Tesseract. There’s even a screenshot of Natalie Portman to remind us of her.

Interestingly we get some brief flashbacks to the closing scenes of Captain America when we are being reintroduced to Steve Rogers, a man out of time who even Agent Coulson pesters to sign his trading cards. Vintage trading cards, he informs Steve.

And then there’s Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow. As noted before on this blog (you might just have noticed) I am quite a fan of the Black Widow so I wanted them to. Get. Her. Right. They did. Oh boy, they did. Scarlett Johansson was suitably badass and in control through the movie, even when other characters make the mistake of thinking otherwise. And to my eyes she wasn’t short-changed by being in the presence of the bigger hitters. It seemed like she was constantly on screen. As was Cap. As was Tony Stark. As was Nick Fury… How did Joss Whedon do that anyway?

Rounding out the team is Agent Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, the team member we’ve probably seen least of up to now, his scene in Thor notwithstanding. He shows what damage you can do with a bow and arrow. His character acts as a good counterpoint to Natasha, who we discover owes him a debt as she has a ‘lot of red in the ledger’.

Ah, hang on a second, I’ve neglected to mention the big guy. Hulk. If anyone stole the show it’s the big guy. He got the three or four biggest laughs of the movie. You’ll know them when you see them. Mark Ruffalo was nicely twitchy as Bruce Banner, trying to keep the ‘big guy’ locked away. (As I write this Edward Norton must be sobbing into his cornflakes.)

If you’ve seen the trailers then I’m not giving too much away by saying there’s a climatic fight in and above Manhattan against an army of alien minions. It has to be the most epic comic book battle yet filmed, or at least rendered in a computer. And everyone in the team plays their part in battle.

There is a post-credits scene as is traditional, but to be honest it meant nothing to me. I like to think I know my Marvel comics but I had to get someone to explain who that was. Your mileage may vary.

So in summary…

Wow.

Avengers Musings: Maria Hill is a Hottie

I was lucky enough to see The Avengers last night when it opened here in the UK.

Wow.

A more detailed review will follow in time. Until then I thought I would share one thought with you: Namely that Maria Hill, as played by Cobie Smulders, is a hottie. I have attached pictorial evidence to back up my claim.

There. Told you so.

I actually remember Cobie from an episode of Smallville where Lex got framed for a murder and I think she was the computer expert who framed him. Anyhow, she plays SHIELD agent Maria Hill who is very much a mainstay in the comic books so it’s nice to see her get a lot of screentime in the movie.

Did I mention I saw the movie? Oh, I did. Review will follow.

New Dark Tower book by Stephen King out today

I’ve not got my hands on this book yet, but as soon as I do it skip right past my current pile of ‘books that I really want to read’.

Where to begin? You will either care or you will not. The Dark Tower series is kinda like that.

I first attempted to read the first volume, The Gunslinger, back about 20 years ago. I had been reading most of what Stephen King had written up to then and enjoyed it all. (Well, except for Pet Sematary.) I was aware of The Dark Tower series as being some “fantasy thing with a cowboy on the cover” but managed not to read it. The Gunslinger was a slim volume and I thought I’d make quick work of it. To be honest I struggled with it and never finished the thing.

Fast-forward to 2003. I remember browsing a bookshop and stopped to look at the Stephen King shelf. There was book 3, The Waste Lands, staring back at me. The cover really intrigued me. It seemed to show a modern city with skyscrapers but in the middle of the desert. I wanted to find out what that was about. So I went home and a trip to the attic produced my old copies of the first two volumes, The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three that I had never managed to read.

This time I did manage to read The Gunslinger. It described the last gunslinger Roland’s quest to reach the mysterious Dark Tower. He was crossing the deserts of Mid-World, a world that has “moved on”. And the book had a brilliant first line. “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” It was such a good line that I had always thought it was exactly how the last book of the series should end…

As the series unfolded it became clear that there were connections to our own world, or one very like it. In fact there were connection’s to much of King’s other novels.

I read books 1 to 4 in 2003 and that turned out to be timed well as book 5 came out that year and then books 6 and 7 appeared in 2004. By the end I was a confirmed Dark Tower fan.

So that was the series over. No more Dark Tower books. Until now, because King has written a new book, The Wind Through the Keyhole, that slots inbetween books 4 and 5. One that will inevitably be referred to as book 4.5 I suppose.

In time I may review it.

Long days and pleasant nights.

New cover image for The Outsiders by Gerald Seymour

A slightly better cover image for The Outsiders has surfaced online in the last week or two so here’s a preview of it.

Over the last week or so I have been lucky enough to get reading a pre-publication copy courtesy of the nice folk at Hodder. Currently I’m just past the three-quarters point and should get it finished during the week. The review will follow here and on my Gerald Seymour page at artofdanger.co.uk.

Black Widow scene from The Avengers

Ok, just seen this and it’s worth posting. Here’s a short scene from the upcoming The Avengers movie with Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow performing her own brand of interrogation.

And damn if Joss Whedon hasn’t written the part perfectly. That is Natasha Romanoff from the comics in action. Perfect, perfect, perfect.



Follow the link and check it out…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCqfncpIjJM&feature=youtube_gdata_player

The Outsiders Gerald Seymour cover image surfaces

I spotted a small cover image for Gerald Seymour’s new novel The Outsiders last night on his agent’s website.

The book was previously titled The Graveyard Team and The Innocents.

Here’s the new blurb from the same page.

The Costa Del Sol: a holiday playground for millions, but also one of the two biggest Europea hubs for the importation of drugs, home to numerous British criminals and also now, the Russian mafia.

MI5 officer Winnie Monks has never forgotten – or forgiven – the death of a young agent on her team at the hands of a former Russian army Major-turned-gangster.

Now, years later, she hears the Major is travelling to a villa on the Costa and she asks permission to send in a surveillance unit.They find an empty property near the Major, The Villa Paraiso. It is perfect to spy from – ad as a base for Winnie’s darker, less official plans.

It turns out that the property isn’t deserted. The owners have invited a young British couple to ‘house sit’ while they are away.For Jono and Posie, just starting a relationship, this is to be a carefree break in the sun. But when the Secret Service team arrives in Paradise, everything changes.

The book is due for publication in July.

Source: http://www.curtisbrown.co.uk/gerald-seymour/the-outsiders/